Irene Makes NYC Landfall as Tropical Storm With Rain, Flooding

Storm damage in Princeton, New Jersey, Aug. 28, 2011
Fire department personnel arrive to survey damage to power lines caused by falling tree after Hurricane Irene sweeps through Princeton, New Jersey, on Aug. 28, 2011. Bloomberg photo by John McCorry.

Hurricane Irene weakened to a tropical storm and made landfall in New York City with winds of 65 miles (105 kilometers) an hour after knocking out power on Long Island and causing flooding in New Jersey.

The storm, so large that its winds and rain began lashing New York late yesterday, moved over the city at about 9 a.m., according to a special National Hurricane Center advisory. The exact location of landfall will be determined by analysis later, the National Weather Service said.

The storm is packing as much as 15 inches of rain, hitting near the time when tides are high across much of the region, according to the weather service. A storm surge of 3.8 feet was reported at New York Harbor, while total water levels near 8.6 feet, or moderate-stage flooding, were reported at Battery Park City in lower Manhattan, the hurricane center said.

“With the storm surge and the amount of water it brings, the most important aspect is to just evacuate,” said Scott Little, vice president and general manager of CoreLogic Inc. Spatial Solutions in Austin, Texas. “Obviously, the lower the storm surge, the lower the damage.”

As of 7 a.m., 72,000 customers were without power in New York and Westchester County, according to Consolidated Edison, and “as the weather system continues to move toward New York, the number of affected customers is expected to grow.” More than 800,000 homes and businesses were blacked out on Long Island and in New Jersey, local utilities reported.

Possible Losses

Irene may become the most powerful storm to strike New York since Hurricane Gloria in 1985. It may inflict $6.5 billion in overall economic losses on the U.S. before being absorbed in other weather systems somewhere over Canada or the Atlantic early next week, according to estimates by Kinetic Analysis Corp., of Silver Spring, Maryland, which estimates the impacts of various hazards. Gloria’s strength was between categories 1 and 2 when it made landfall on Long Island.

Hurricane Irene made its first landfall early yesterday on North Carolina’s outer banks, flooding roads and knocking out power to more than a million homes and businesses in the Carolinas and Maryland, according to local utilities. At least nine people have died.

It made another landfall about 5:30 a.m. today near Little Egg Inlet in New Jersey, the first time on record a hurricane has hit the Jersey shore, according to AccuWeather Inc.

Tumbling trees and debris dragged down power lines and winds blew over electrical poles, cutting off power to homes and businesses from South Carolina to New York, with worse expected today as the storm rakes New York City.

Tornadoes Reported

Tornadoes have been reported in Delaware and Virginia, where they have damaged homes, according to the U.S. Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Tornadoes are possible throughout Irene’s path, according to the hurricane center.

In Long Beach, a Long Island city of about 35,000 on a nine-mile barrier island, the surge may be 6 to 10 feet above normal, said Kara Guy, a spokeswoman for Nassau Country. Waves higher than 10 feet (3 meters) crashed down on the wide beach of 131-year-old Long Island City, about 25 miles from midtown Manhattan.

CoreLogic, a business risk information provider based in Santa Ana, California, estimates 80,861 homes in New York City and Long Island valued at $35 billion are vulnerable to damage from a Catetory 1 storm surge. Irene may have caused between $500 million and $1.1 billion in damage to the Bahamas earlier this week, according to estimates by AIR Worldwide in Boston.

City Dangers

Irene’s winds will be stronger at higher elevations, so high-rises in New York and other major cities will experience more intense buffeting than lower structures, according to the hurricane center.

“So you have to worry about falling glass and windows being blown out,” said Bill Leatham, a meteorologist with Hometown Forecast Services in Nashua, New Hampshire.

Rivers and creeks throughout the Northeast are rising, according to weather service river gauges.

Water rose to 8.12 feet at the Sandy Hook, New Jersey, flood gauge as of 7:36 a.m., which is higher than the 7.7-foot threshold for moderate flooding.

The Millstone River in Blackwells Mills, New Jersey, rose 14.37 feet in the past 12 hours and is now considered at major stage flooding, according to the National Weather Service. The Raritan River’s south and north branches are also at major flood stage. The south branch rose 10.79 feet in the past 12 hours, while the north branch in Raritan has risen 12.26, according to weather service river gauges.

High Water

Brandywine Creek at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, rose 10.5 feet in the last 24 hours and is expected to surpass its all-time high flood stage of 17.15 feet, set in September 1999, when Hurricane Floyd swept through the Northeast, according to the weather service. Chadds Ford is about 25 miles west of Philadelphia.

Many records set in the region when Floyd came through may be broken today, Bill Deger, a meteorologist for private forecaster AccuWeather in State College, Pennsylvania, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Northeast is also experiencing higher tides because of a new moon, so a storm surge now will be higher than it would at other times of the month, said Michael Schlacter, chief meteorologist at Weather 2000 Inc. in New York.

If Irene’s losses exceed $1 billion, it will be the 10th such costly natural disaster in the U.S. this year, a record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The U.S. has suffered $35 billion in losses due to nine separate events so far in 2011, according to NOAA.

Warnings Posted

Hurricane warnings were posted from Chincoteague, Virginia, northward to Sagamore Beach in Massachusetts, including New York City, according to the hurricane center. Tropical storm warnings are in effect north of Sagamore Beach to Eastport, Maine and into Canada.

Wind and rain warnings were issued for parts of Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, according to Environment Canada.

Irene’s hurricane-strength winds stretch 125 miles from its center. Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 mph extend 320 miles from the core.

Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Jose formed 115 miles south-southwest of Bermuda, where a storm warning has been issued, according to the hurricane center. Jose is expected to move north and start to deteriorate tomorrow.

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